“Do you ever feel like nothing?” Remus asks.
He’s sitting on the edge of the bed, his tie left unknotted around his neck. He has an apple in his hand, but James doubts Remus is planning on eating it. Sometimes, Remus just likes to hold things to give the illusion of having something to do.
“Like I am nothing?” James asks. “Or like I’m doing nothing?”
Remus cocks his head, eyeing James warily. He sets the apple down, then turns his attention to his tie.
“Never mind,” Remus says. “It was a dumb question.”
His fingers look even more rough and scarred than usual against the silky red and gold of his tie. James can’t help noticing how they tremble slightly as Remus ties his tie. A part of James wonders what Remus’s fingers would look like against his own, the cool sand of Remus’s skin against James’s own warm brown. It’s a silly thought. It has been plaguing James for weeks.
The ends of the tie are uneven. Remus curses and starts again.
It’s three in the morning, and they’re out in the snow. Sirius, eyes bright with mischief and sleep-deprivation, has dragged Remus and James out to make snowmen.
“Aren’t we a little old for this?” James asks.
Sirius dumps snow down James robe, snickering when James shrieks.
“Shut up, you pretentious bitch,” says Sirius. “You’re never too old to play in the snow.”
James scoops up a handful of snow and throws it at Sirius’s face. Sirius starts to pelt snow in James’s direction. It’s like getting slapped with a soft and gentle pain, and James can barely keep up.
Out of the corner of his eye, James sees Remus flick his wand, and a wall of snow slams into Sirius’s back. Sirius ends up on top of James, who is breathless with achy laughter.
“Fuck you, Moony, you traitor!” Sirius snarls, but he’s laughing too hard for anyone to take him seriously.
Remus just grins at Sirius. Scowling slightly, Sirius rolls off of James and grabs Remus’s hand, pulling him down to the ground. Remus lands with an oomph, snow flying into James’s hair and eyes. Sirius clasps hands with James, as easy as breathing, and they lie in the snow together, side by side.
If James turns his head to the left, he will see Sirius holding Remus’s hand. If James turns his head to the left, he will see the back of Sirius’s head, all thin, frizzy brown hair that tickles when it brushes James’s skin. Sirius is no doubt looking at Remus, and Remus is looking back.
James wonders what it says about him, that he’s jealous of his two best friends.
“Do you ever feel like nothing?” Remus asks.
Something cold fills James’s body, from the tips of his toes up to the pit of his stomach.
“How so?” Sirius asks.
James focuses on the warmth of Sirius’s hand. He’s wearing mittens, which would get most boys teased over, but Sirius manages to pull it off.
“I think sometimes”—and Remus’s voice raises to a dreamy pitch—“that I’m going to float away.”
James sits up to look Remus in the eye. Sirius lets go of his hand as he does, and James immediately misses the gentle scrape of the mitten on his palm.
“Are you okay?” James asks.
But Remus’s eyes are on Sirius who is gently tucking Remus’s hair behind his ear. He’s using the hand he used to hold James’s hand, which shouldn’t bother James, but it does.
“Don’t float too far,” Sirius says, uncharacteristically gentle. He cups Remus’s face, his thumb stroking Remus’s cheekbone, and Remus leans into the touch.
The snow is soaking through James’s robes, and neither of his friends are looking at him. He thinks Sirius and Remus might be falling in love. He thinks he might be sick.
It occurs to James that he’s a horrible friend.
A few weeks pass. Not much seems to change on the surface. Sirius still links arms with James as they walk to class, Remus still sits next to James and rests his head on James’s shoulder, and they’re still Moony and Padfoot and Prongs, a package deal. But it’s like Remus and Sirius have their own dynamic entirely, like a planet and its own sun or the earth and its moon, caught in each other’s orbit.
Sometimes, James dreams of Remus kissing him, catching James’s bottom lip with his teeth. He dreams of Sirius tangling his deft fingers through James’s thick hair, getting them caught in his curls. He dreams of the three of them lying in the snow, hands linked, side-by-side, watching the stars in silence.
He always wakes up with a muffled scream and has to resist the urge to punch his pillow.
God, he hates this.
James wonders sometimes whether he should be concerned. He doesn’t think Remus is okay—in fact, he knows there’s something wrong.
He finds Remus on the stairwell, wrapped up in a blanket, shivering slightly. He looks slightly out of focus, like a picture that’s taken in the middle of too much movement. A part of James worries that if he tries to touch Remus, it will be like touching static.
James sits next to him, adjusting the invisibility cloak so it covers Remus, too. Remus barely twitches. His hands are listless in his lap, and James wants to hold them. He wants to kiss them, thumb to palm to wrist, until Remus starts to feel warm.
“Do you think I’m selfish?” Remus asks.
James can’t help it. He starts to laugh, and Remus punches his shoulder.
“It’s not funny,” he says crossly. “Answer the question, Prongs.”
“No, Remus,” says James, “I don’t think you’re selfish. In fact, I think the world is fucked if you are.”
“I’m not happy,” Remus says, turning to look at him. Moonlight streams in from the window, hitting his face at an odd slant. One eye is bathed in light, the other in darkness, and both are impossibly large. “Why aren’t I happy?”
James swallows. Remus’s hand is on his arm, and it’s just as cold as he thought it would be.
“I don’t know,” James says. Then, hesitantly: “What do you mean when you say you feel like nothing?”
Remus has James’s hand in his own, and their fingers are intertwined.
“Think of the stars,” Remus says. “Think of how they float in the vacuum of space. They’re burning up, but they’re so very cold. Nothing holds them up except gravity. Do you ever wonder what would happen if gravity stopped working?”
“No,” James says.
Remus is meeting James’s eyes, and the look on his face is almost painful to look at. Remus should look sincere or earnest, but instead he just looks tired. Washed out.
The last embers of a dying flame.
“Do you ever feel like nothing?” Remus asks.
James thinks of the way he feels every time Remus smooths Sirius’s hair away from his face, every time Sirius has to stand on the tips of his toes to kiss Remus on the lips, and the way Remus’s and Sirius’s hands always seem to search for each other. He doesn’t feel like a star out of orbit, but he thinks that maybe his friends are about to leave him behind.
If he is a star, does that make Remus and Sirius the gravity that holds him in place as he spins his way through space? If they fade away from his life, will he have anywhere else to go? Or will he plummet through the emptiness of space, burning through everything that gets in his way?
He doesn’t think this is normal. Being this scared of being left behind—are other people like this? Or is James too much of everything?
Too much. And not enough.
Do you ever feel like nothing?
“No,” James says.
James is pretty sure he should be worried about far more things than teenage romantic angst. Remus is probably depressed. James thinks that he might be, too.
And Sirius. Oh, Sirius.
James forgets sometimes, just how angry Sirius is. He teases and rags on Remus and James but always with a friendly glint in his eye, always with this soft note in his voice.
But other times, Sirius’s quill snaps in his hand, and he presses down so hard that the paper tears and ink bleeds onto the desk. Other times, Sirius shoves people against the wall, his wand at their throat. Other times, Sirius gets in fistfights with people in the middle of the Quidditch pitch.
Sirius stumbles into the bedroom with his knuckles bloody and his hair flying everywhere and sticking in his mouth. He’s covered in mud and grass and blood James isn’t sure to whom it belongs.
“Fuck,” Remus says, which sums it up pretty well.
“How’d you get past the teachers?” James demands.
Sirius groans and falls onto his bed. He looks simultaneously boneless and stiff as coiled wire.
“Don’t need your judgment,” Sirius mumbles. “Jus’ fix me.”
“You should see a healer,” Remus says, but he’s taking out his potions kit as he speaks.
“Don’t want to get in trouble.”
James sits next to Sirius, the mattress dipping under his weight. He gently holds Sirius’s hand, cleaning off the blood and mud and grass stains the best he can. Sirius hisses as James dabs the scraped parts with a wet rag, and James winces in sympathy.
“Drink this,” Remus says, tipping a small vial near Sirius’s lips.
Sirius swallows obediently, and Remus starts to clean his other hand.
Sirius sighs with relief as Remus and James apply a thick, foul-smelling poultice the color of moss.
“Who was it this time?” Remus asks.
“Some asshole made fun of Regulus,” Sirius says crossly.
“You make fun of Regulus all the time,” James says.
Sirius gives James a look which implies James’s general lack of worthy conversational contributions. It’s quite scathing. Or it would be, if his face weren’t bright red.
“That’s different,” Sirius says.
Remus is wrapping bandages around Sirius’s hand. His eyes look slightly unfocused, and James wishes he knew what Remus sees when he looks away from the world.
“I think you just want an excuse to fight,” Remus says.
Sirius shrugs, wincing slightly as he does. “What’s it to you?” he retorts.
Remus’s lips press into a thin line. James looks down at his hands and clenches a fist. The knuckles strain under his skin, and he unclenches his hand to find small crescent moons across his palm.
“You,” James says, his voice low and tight, “are so lucky that you’re white.”
Sirius stills a little.
It’s not like they don’t ever talk about it. When James gets punched, it’s always harder than what Sirius receives. It doesn’t matter that James is rich, that he comes from a family well off enough to afford hefty lawyer fees and then some. They hit, they shove, they snap, and they make snide comments about “going back where you came from,” despite the Potter family not living in India for generations. James is pretty sure that a lot of white wizards hate that his family has money. It ruins the image of the world they want to see.
And Remus. Well, there’s Remus, who prays in Korean because it feels wrong to do it in English, who does it in a whisper or not at all because he doesn’t want the other students to hear.
James wonders sometimes which one is worse in the eyes of polite British wizard society: being a person of color or being a werewolf?
“Are you mad at me?” Sirius asks.
“I’m mad at the world,” James says shortly.
“I’ll drink to that,” Sirius says because of course he will.
“Here, here,” Remus says wearily, handing Sirius a cup of water.
Sirius takes a drink, then starts to choke. He coughs incessantly, and James has to pound his back several times before he stops.
“Fuck,” Sirius gasps.
He stares up at the bed canopy, chest heaving slightly. Remus shuts his potions kit with a snap and crawls into bed next to Sirius. James hesitates, hovering slightly. Sirius rolls his eyes and grabs James’s wrist, pulling him onto the bed. He falls onto the bed, landing on top of Sirius’s chest, and freezes slightly. Before he can roll away, Sirius’s hand comes up to stroke the back of James’s head.
James is so confused.
“I know,” Sirius says, “I know I’m a privileged bitch, and I’m trying, Prongs—I’m honestly trying to be better.”
His fingernails are lightly scraping against James’s scalp. A part of James wants to melt into his touch. The more mature, rational side of him is steadily chanting Remus Remus oh my fucking god Remus over and over. James opens his mouth to—to what? Apologize? Scream? Beg the universe to make it make sense?
Remus, meanwhile, has his face buried in Sirius’s neck with his foot casually hooked around James’s ankle, and—yeah, this is normal; this is friendly, just three bros hanging out and showing each other some platonic love. James does this all the time.
“Take a shower,” James says. “You’re getting me and Moony filthy.”
Sirius groans but gently nudges both Remus and James off of him.
After Sirius leaves, James expects Remus to follow him. Instead, Remus rolls over and curls up against James’s side.
The universe has not deigned James with an explanation.
James wakes up at four in the morning. Remus’s bed is empty, and Sirius is sound asleep.
James doesn’t know why he panicked. There are so many reasons that Remus might have for not being there. Midnight snack, restless legs, elaborate and probably illegal prank, etc. But James, despite having the reputation among other students as a hopeless optimist, is well used to assuming the worst.
He doesn’t know what the worst is—more accurately, he doesn’t want to think about what the worst might be. (He knows; of course he knows. He knows what it is to feel like nothing, to want the numbness to go away. It’s like walking on a tightrope, high above it all, not noticing that the wire is slicing through your feet and not caring if the next step will lead to a fall.)
James looks at the map and bites back a curse. He finds Remus out in the snow, no robes or coat in sight, flat on his back as he stares up at the starless sky.
The clouds hide the moon and stars from view.
Remus isn’t asleep, thank Merlin. But the snow is soaking through Remus’s pyjamas, and he’s not reacting in the slightest.
“Come on, old man,” James says, crouching next to him. “Time to come inside.”
When Remus doesn’t respond, James grabs his hand and pulls him up. Remus blinks, his face twitching slightly, and he comes back to himself.
“Hi,” he says, then starts to shiver.
A low thrum of panic pounds in James’s pulse. He shakes it off and takes his robe, wrapping it around Remus. It’s not until they’re in the kitchens, soft warm blankets wrapped around Remus’s shoulders and a cup of hot cocoa in his hands, that James’s anxiety eases.
There’s no frostbite. He’s pretty sure Remus doesn’t have hypothermia, and if he does, it’s mild. They don’t have to go to the healers, to James’s relief.
He ignores the gentle whisper in his mind that says maybe it would be good if Remus went to the healers, that maybe Remus needs a healer.
“I was going to come back in,” Remus says. He’s shivering, the cocoa sloshing in the mug . “I swear I wasn’t going to do it, James, I swear.”
He’s crying a little, his breath coming in stilted little gasps, and James doesn’t know what to do.
“I believe you,” James says.
Remus looks at him, his mouth crumpled. “Are you lying?” he asks.
“I don’t know,” James says. Then, hesitantly: “Are you?”
Remus doesn’t answer. James pours a mug of cocoa for himself, mostly to have something warm to hold.
“Do you feel like nothing?” James asks.
Remus drinks the rest of his cocoa. He’s shivering less now, which is a good thing. James thinks. Please let it be a good thing.
“I’m just really tired of being like this,” Remus says.
James clinks his mug against Remus’s.
“Cheers,” James says.
Remus doesn’t want to talk about it. James doesn’t want to be That Friend, so he doesn’t bring it up.
Maybe he should, though. He’s pretty sure Remus is not okay. He’s beginning to wonder if any of them are.
But neither Sirius nor Remus says anything, so James follows their lead.
Over breakfast a few days later, Remus, carefully casual, says, “I think I might be depressed.” He’s speaking more to his muffin than to Sirius or James, picking it apart and making a mess of crumbs on his plate.
“No shit,” Sirius says.
James kicks his ankle under the table.
“I mean,” Sirius says, “are you okay? Do you wanna talk about it?”
“Professor McGonagall recommended that I see a healer,” Remus says to his muffin.
James feels himself relax. He didn’t realize before how much worry had wrapped around his chest like wire so tight it was cutting into his flesh and bone.
Remus is getting help. He’s going to be okay. They’re all going to be okay.
“I’ve, um, I’ve been to one before,” James says, ignoring the anxiety knotting up in his throat. “It helps.”
A seventh year named Drew passing by their table, who really should know better than to listen in on people’s conversations, snorts and mutters, “Yeah, I bet it did.”
The knot of anxiety gets thicker, like snarls of wool caught in James’s throat. Before he has time to say something incredibly nasty back, Sirius has grabbed handfuls of Drew’s robe and slammed him against the table. Plates clatter to the floor, as pancakes and waffles are squished under Drew’s weight. He shrieks, attempting to shove Sirius away, but Sirius is too strong.
The room is so very quiet.
“What the fuck did you say?” Sirius demands.
“Get off of me!” Drew yells.
McGonagall approaches, mouth set in a tight grimace. She looks disappointed, which is a facial expression James is becoming well acquainted with.
“God, you’re such a freak,” Drew snarls. “And you wonder why no one else wants to be your fr—”
Sirius starts punching Drew. McGonagall is shouting at him to stop, and professors are dragging Sirius back, and he’s still swinging and kicking, shouting curses at Drew’s retreating form.
James thinks he might be ill. Remus won’t look up from his plate. Sirius gets detention.
That’s the way of the world.
Later, when Sirius gets out of detention, he finds James on the Quidditch pitch. James ignores him the best he can, but once Sirius mounts his broom and flies up beside him, he stops making an effort.
“What?” James snaps.
“Are you mad at me?” Sirius asks.
The wind is blowing his hair around his face, and his lips are chapped from the cold. James hates that even when he wants to punch Sirius off his broom, he still finds Sirius beautiful.
“I don’t need you to fight my battles for me,” James says through clenched teeth.
“I wasn’t,” Sirius says.
“It’s all you ever do,” James says, exasperated. “You’re just—you don’t even really care; it’s just another fucking reason to blow off steam. All you ever do is look for excuses to start throwing punches, and I’m done, okay—I’m fucking done!”
“Hey,” Sirius says, reaching out to touch James’s shoulder. James dodges, and Sirius pulls his hand back. “That’s not—Merlin, James, that’s not why—”
“You’re fucked in the head!” James yells. “WE ARE ALL FUCKED IN THE HEAD! I get it, okay? God, you think I don’t notice how Remus is fucking suicidal or how you can’t go two days without getting in a fight because you’re so angry! All the time! And I just—I can’t even just be around you without becoming some side piece on the mental illness show, never mind that I have shit of my own to deal with, and I am so tired! I am so tired of how angry you are and how you bottle it up and I never know when it’s going to explode, and I just have to fucking deal with it when you do, and you and Remus barely look at me anymore like you’re in some other world of your own, and—”
He’s crying. The wind is freezing his tears almost as soon as they fall, and he wishes it weren’t winter. Sirius looks like James has punched him in the gut. He’s not saying what he wanted to say. (He’s saying everything he wanted to say, just in all the wrong ways and in all the wrong order, a jumbled mess of fury, which is ironic considering he’s yelling at Sirius for being angry.) He thinks he might die from humiliation.
“James,” Sirius says, and his face is pale.
“Just don’t,” James says. “Just—fuck off with Remus and do whatever it is you do when I’m gone; I don’t care.”
He flies away. When he looks back, Sirius has not moved. He is motionless in the sky, his legs dangling from his broom and his robes flapping in the wind.
Do you ever feel like nothing?
Sometimes, James wishes Remus never asked. He put words to the feeling that had plagued James for so long (or rather, the lack of feeling). Before, it was more abstract, like a shadow that followed James wherever he went. Now, it’s tangible, a solid dark mass growing up from the ground, intent on weaving its way around James’s limbs and dragging him down with it.
James sits at the top of the Astronomy Tower, his legs dangling over the edge. It makes him dizzy to look down, but looking down is all he ever does. All he can think is yes.
It’s a peculiar feeling, this nothingness. It’s like all of him is deadweight, impossible to move an inch. It’s like he weighs nothing at all and is left for the wind to toss him to and fro. It’s like he is buried in snow, the cold soaking through his clothes and skin, down to his very bone, until nothing is left, melted away by the snow.
He knows this isn’t normal. He knows that he should call his parents or talk to his friends or ask a professor for help. He knows.
He has been through this all before.
From the corner of his eye, he sees Remus sitting down next to him. He knows Sirius is behind him, too, and can practically picture the awkward way Sirius is standing, body tense with loose limbs. They’re a matched set.
“You shouldn’t sit so close to the edge,” says Remus. “It’s dangerous.”
“You’d catch me,” James says. Because he believes it, to his very core. No matter what may happen, no matter what goes wrong, Remus or Sirius will always, always catch him.
“That’s not the point,” Remus says.
It’s not, and James understands that. It doesn’t mean he appreciates Remus pointing it out. James briefly considers pushing off completely, but people whose loved ones commit suicide are traumatized enough as it is, let alone if they’re present to witness the act.
He draws his legs up and scoots back, pretending not to notice Remus’s clear relief.
“I wasn’t going to jump,” James says.
“I know,” Remus says steadily.
James laughs. It’s all a script that he has run through before, and the actors change every time. He wonders sometimes, how much of what people say and do is real and how much of it is rehearsed, repeated, rehashed. Does original thought truly exist? Or is the same old story regurgitated time after time, with only slight modifications?
“You’re lying, aren’t you,” James says.
“Jesus fucking Christ, James,” Remus says, “of course I’m lying.”
James wants to say something that will make everything okay. He doesn’t have the words, though. He doesn’t think anyone does.
“Not to ruin a touching moment,” Sirius says, his long fingers brushing against James’s shoulder, “but can we move this conversation somewhere else?”
James hesitates. He looks at the wide expanse of sky, at the trees poking their way up into the clouds. He wonders—would it feel freeing to fall past them? All empty sky around him, quiet mist around his form? Or would it be angry and loud, the wind screaming past him as he plummets and biting into his skin? With his luck, he would probably hit a bird on the way down.
Sirius offers James his hand and, when James takes it, pulls him up to his feet.
Remus takes James’s other hand, and they walk back to their room in uncharacteristic silence. When they get back, Sirius sits on the edge of James’s bed and fixes him with a stare.
“Fucked in the head, huh,” Sirius says.
All of a sudden, James is laughing, hysterical and loud and bright. He sinks onto the bed next to Sirius, and Remus sits next to him, perched on the edge like a bird that’s prepping for flight.
“I’m really messed up,” James says.
Remus has James’s hand in his still, cool sand against warm brown, and it is nothing like the way James dreamed.
“So are we,” Remus says, which probably shouldn’t make James snort. He’ll take laughter from where he can, though.
“We’re here,” Sirius says. When he reaches for James’s hand, James doesn’t pull away. “We’re here.”
They stay like that, tangled up in each other’s space on one tiny bed. Later, in the quiet darkness of night, Sirius whispers, “You know I care, right? It’s not just anger issues, which—okay, yeah, I have a problem. But I really do care about you.”
“I know,” says James.
“Good,” Sirius says, then kisses James’s cheek and drifts off to sleep.
James stays awake for a while, his fingers resting lightly on the spot Sirius kissed.
James owls his parents in the morning, and he starts meeting with a healer again. Sirius has taken up journaling and does his best to make his journal bleed with ink when he gets the urge to smash someone’s face in. Remus is still meeting with his healer.
They’re going to be okay. Everything will be okay.
Remus and Sirius still have this energy James can’t quite match. They share looks James is not a part of, moment James is not privy to. But it’s okay—he loves them, and they love him back, and James is not going to be left behind.
Sirius drags them outside in the middle of the night, cheerful mischief in his eyes. Remus is no better. He and Sirius keep exchanging grinning glances, a silent communication James is too confused to decipher.
They reach the Quidditch pitch, and James half-expects Sirius to ask him to get his broom. Instead, Sirius slings his arm around James’s shoulders and points at the sky.
“There I am,” Sirius says, “brightest star in the sky.”
“I do pay attention in astronomy, Padfoot, thanks for asking.”
Sirius and Remus laugh. They’re bright and warm and happy, and James doesn’t understand why they’re here. Sirius takes James by the hands, the soft scratch of his mittens gentle on James’s palms.
“What’s going on?” James asks.
“James,” Remus says, and he’s smiling with his eyes, “what do you want?”
James stares at him blankly, then turns to look at Sirius. Sirius, who is still holding James’s hands. Sirius, who is grinning at James less than innocently.
“I don’t know what you mean,” James says, his heart pounding.
“What do you want, James?” Sirius asks.
The moonlight casts a silvery light on Remus and Sirius. Remus’s already dark hair looks black in the night, while Sirius’s looks as if it is aglow. James wants to touch them both, to run his fingers through their hair and trace the lines and angles of their faces.
“You,” James whispers because Remus is smiling at him and Sirius is holding his hands and all he can think is maybe maybe please maybe.
“Just me?” Sirius asks, a teasing glint in his eyes. Remus whacks his shoulder, and he laughs, boisterous and loud. “What? It’s a fair question!”
“Both of you,” James says, his mouth dry.
“Okay,” Sirius says, and he kisses James, cupping James’s face in his hands.
Sirius pulls away, a rather insufferable grin on his face.
“May I?” Remus asks, gently turning James around to face him. James nods, unable to figure out how to say it out loud. Remus kisses James with a smile on his lips, his fingers entangling back into James’s hair. He feels giddier than he has in years.
They’re not okay. But they’re getting there, and if they share some kisses along the way, so much the better.